# 60 A journey through the Psalms. Truths to help us to “…live a life worthy of the calling [we] have received.” (Ephesians 4:1). # Seven: Psalm 5 A passionate prayer.

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Commenting on Psalm 4, I recently quoted Bill Hybels speaking of our God as a relational God. He says: “I began to understand that God was near to me, and that a relationship with me was on his mind.” Psalm 5 is another that reveals this relationship . As you read it, you get the feeling that the psalmist, King David, is not just involved in the religious activity called prayer (common to most religions of the world), then getting it over and done with so he could move onto doing something real and practical and useful.  In fact, one gets the impression from reading this psalm that David considers prayer to YAHWEH as the most important, the most realistic, the most practical and the most useful thing he can do in the circumstances he finds himself in. He says:

“Listen to my passionate prayer. Can’t you hear my groaning? Don’t you hear how I’m crying out to you?” (5:1-2a)

Now that’s passionate! Ever felt like that, but too afraid to speak to God in such a way? But how could David talk like this to the one he then calls “My King and my God” (5:2) Simple. It’s all about relationship. He seems to presume that if you can’t be passionate and just plain honest with the “lover of your soul” then what’s the use of following and worshiping Him at all.

But, you might ask, how was David even qualified to talk to God like this anyway. As Wilcock puts it: “There was much in the life of David…that was not at all [what we would consider as] righteous. But his heart was God’s and he bowed to God’s authority.” He continues, “The ground on which God declares people guiltless [or righteous]…is not their goodness…No, in the Old Testament as in the New the ground of one’s justification is simply faith in a God of grace…It is the entrusting of oneself to this God which is ‘counted…for righteousness’ (Genesis 15:6).” (see references # 5)

And so David, despite God’s present silence and perceived inaction, keeps it up anyway. “At each and every sunrise you will hear my voice, as I prepare my sacrifice of prayer to you. Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life on the altar, and wait for your fire to fall upon my heart.” (5:3) Broyles suggests that “no ritual conveys the notions of respect for and dependence on God more strongly than that of waiting.” (see references # 4) God’s not deaf to our prayers, so, like David, keep praying and waiting and never give up. God can be trusted to answer in His time and in His way.

And like David, believe. “Know” that our God is “never pleased with lawlessness [or wrong of any kind]”, eventually he “will make an end of all those who lie…[to] hypocrisy…[to] all who love violence” (5:4-6). “Know” that He “will welcome” you, because you are “covered by…[His] covenant of mercy and love.” (5:7) Know and trust.

I remember crying out to God when we were faced with a particular crisis. My wife, Miriam and I, with our two eldest children (then aged 2 and 4), had just completed our missionary training and had returned to Perth. We had been accepted to join the mission agency we had applied to and were heading for Pakistan. As usual, there were things to do in preparation, including routine health checks. That’s when things changed. Miriam’s chest X-ray revealed, what looked like, potentially, a rather large cancerous tumour on her lung and so further tests were organised. For these she needed to be admitted to hospital and so I was left with the care of the children and what seemed, the very real threat of possibly losing their mother and my beloved wife after only 6 years of marriage.

Believe me, my prayers were pretty passionate during that time. “But God, you called us to serve you overseas! We have gone through all the training! What about the children? What about our marriage?” I don’t quite remember all the details, but prior to the final diagnosis, God spoke words of comfort and reassurance to me and enabled me to simply trust him. Praise God, what appeared so sinister turned out, after numerous tests, to be quite benign.

I realize that this is not always the way things turn out for some who face the threat of such things as cancer in themselves or in their loved ones, but for us it was a case of being able to say to God, “Lord, how wonderfully you bless the righteous. Your favour wraps around each one and covers them under you canopy of kindness and joy.” (5:12)

Whatever the result of our crying out to God, it is possible, not in ourselves, but just because of who he is, and due to the desire he has to be in relationship with us, to be even able to “sing and rejoice”, the privilege of all “lover[s] of [His] name.” (5:11) And then one day, we will “burst forth with endless joy” in his presence for ever more (5:11). “Joy is to have a central place in [our] pilgrimage with God.” (Broyle)

Father, what a privilege to be in a right relationship (“righteous”) with you because of all that Jesus has done on the cross for us. Thank you that in Jesus’ Name we can draw near to you with confidence, and cry out to you passionately. Hallelujah!  So, “Lord, lead me in the pathways of your pleasure just like you promised me you would…Smooth out your road in front of me, straight and level so I will know where to walk.” (5:8)

# 59 A journey through the Psalms. Truths to help us to “…live a life worthy of the calling [we] have received.” (Ephesians 4:1). # Six: Psalm 4 Intense pain – intense pleasure.

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After the very positive and encouraging message that comes through in Psalm 1 concerning the “way of the righteous”, i.e. “whatever he does prospers”, and then the similarly positive message of Psalm 2 concerning the “One enthroned in heaven” and the great truth that He has “installed” His “Anointed One” as King over the nations, then the following 5 psalms could come as a bit of a surprise. In fact, they are all basically Lament Psalms, or Psalms of Disorientation, where the psalmist is praying to God concerning the difficult times he is having.

As I’m sure you know, life can be tough. Just ask Asia Bibi (see previous Post). Maybe not all the time, but certainly all people everywhere have experienced pain, loss, despair in one way or another. So, what message do these psalms have that makes them still relevant for us today. Simply this, that in the midst of these times of disorientation, there is always hope because God is the One who cares and makes all the difference.

Easy to forget, maybe, but the Psalms are (mostly) just conversations between a person and God. They are prayers, and often prayers that recognize that if God does not respond, then all is lost. But the message that comes through is that the person praying has little doubt about God’s ability and his desire to respond to his prayer, even if He is taking His time. And in the midst of the chaos this brings a peace of mind, a spiritual rest that is beyond explanation. In fact, Paul calls this, “the peace of God which transcends all understanding.” (Phil 4:7)

In Bill Hybel’s book, “The Power of a Whisper – Hearing God. Having the Guts to Respond.” (Zondervan 2010), his basic message is that our God is a Divine Communicator desiring a close relationship with his people.  Bill speaks of his own experience:

“I can look back on my spiritual life thus far and see two distinct eras. The first era was defined by me thinking of God in non-relational ways…I thought of him as a distant businessman…the CEO of the universe…During that era, Christianity was nothing more to me than a compilation of theoretical ideas about God…My faith system could be whittled down to a simple rule that I hoped would keep my nose clean: Do not disturb the CEO…

The second of my spiritual eras has been marked by a far different understanding of Christianity than the first…I discovered what God was really like, I discovered a deity who couldn’t have been more different that the CEO-type I had dreamed up. I began to understand that God was near to me, and that a relationship with me was on his mind… Scripture declares that our faith is relational – God listens when we speak through prayer, and we are to listen when he speaks through his whispers.”

And so to Psalm 4. Commentators suggest it is connected to the same situation as Psalm 3 (Absalom’s rebellion).

The psalmist begins with God. Always a good place to begin. He says, “God, you’re my righteousness, my Champion Defender.” (4:1) But then moves quickly into his problem and asks the question which is perplexing him: “Why aren’t you answering me when I cry for help?”

Again, he is not doubting God’s ability or willingness, just his timing, for he then reminds himself and others, “May we never forget that the Lord works wonders for every one of his chosen lovers. And this is how I know that he will answer my every prayer.” (4:3)

Is he just an optimist? It doesn’t seem so. Rather he has lived his life long enough, as a “lover” of God to have heard the stories and experienced the faithfulness of God not only in his own life, but in the lives of others.

And so, despite the frustration of his enemies attacks, and needing to endure as he waits for God to answer his prayers, he is full of an unexplainable joy and peace, that even enables him to “lay down in peace and sleep comes at once.” (4:8)

Listen to the expression of this joy and peace in the midst of “distress”:

“The intense pleasure you give me

Surpasses the gladness of harvest time,

Even more than when the harvesters gaze upon their ripened grain,

And when their new wine overflows.

…no matter what happens

I will live unafraid!” (4:7-8)

Father, above all else you are a relational God. Speaking, listening, loving, caring, providing, saving those who will respond to you in faith. So, open my eyes that I may see wonderful truths in your word. Open my ears to hear your gentle whispers. Open my heart to respond in obedience to all that you reveal. Open my mouth to proclaim the wonders and the blessings of the Gospel. In Jesus Name. Amen.

 

# 58 A journey through the Psalms. Truths to help us to “…live a life worthy of the calling [we] have received.” (Ephesians 4:1). # Five: Psalm 3 Covered by the Glory

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Although this psalm fits into the type of psalms known as Lament or Disorientation, there is quite an element of hope and faith that shines through despite the problems related to the actions and words of David’s enemies, which we are given insight into from the heading of the psalm (King David’s song when he was forced to flee from Absalom, his own son).

And even though this psalm seems to fit well into David’s situation as found in 2 Samuel 13:23-17:29, it is also very relevant to us and our time, particularly as we consider the sufferings of many believers in our day due to persecution, as mentioned when we considered Psalm 2.

In fact, I have just completed reading a book called  “Blasphemy – The true, heart-breaking story of the woman sentenced to death over a cup of water” by Asia Bibi.” (co-authored  by Anne-Isabell Tollet in 2012, Virago Press). As I read this book I thought of Psalm 3 and recognized that it could easily have been written by this courageous Pakistani Christian woman, who still remains on death row in a Pakistani prison having been accused of blasphemy in 2009 (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asia_Bibi_blasphemy_case).

Over these years she has found strength in her Saviour Jesus who also knew all about being accused of blasphemy and facing the death sentence as a result!

Listen to the cry then, initially from David, but then from other fellow sufferers over the millennia, people just like Aasiya Noreen, also known as Asia Bibi.

“1. Lord, I have so many enemies, so many who are against me.

  1. Listen to how they whisper their slander against me, saying:

‘Look! He’s hopeless! Even God can’t save him from this!’

  1. But in the depths of my heart I truly know

That you have become my Shield;

You take me and surround me with yourself.

Your glory covers me continually. You alone restore my courage;

For you lift high my head when I bow low in shame.

  1. I have cried out to you

And from your holy presence,

You send me a Father’s help.

  1. So now I’ll lie down and go to sleep –

And I’ll awake in safety for you surround me with your glory.

  1. Even though dark powers prowl around me,

With their words like sharp arrows, I won’t be afraid.

  1. I simply cry out to you:

Rise up and help me, Lord! Come and save me!

And you will slap them in the face,

Breaking the power of their words to harm me.

  1. My true Hero comes to my rescue,

For the Lord alone is my Saviour.

What a feast of favour and bliss he gives his people!”  (Psalm 3 TPT)

The thing that comes through very strongly in this psalm is David’s relationship with God and his belief that no matter what the enemy says or does, God is with him. Consider the words he uses about how this works out practically in his life in verses 3-8.

He describes God as his protective “Shield”, of being surrounded by Him and of being covered by His “glory”. Of being able to sleep soundly at night despite “dark powers” around him because of the “Father’s help” that gives him courage not to be afraid. His confidence is in God and God alone to defeat his foes and to rescue him, bringing him into a place of “favour and bliss” in God’s presence.

We need to remind ourselves often who our God really is and what he is able to accomplish even in the midst of the struggles of our lives. May we be inspired to trust God in greater ways as we consider this psalm and the following update concerning Asia Bibi in December 2015:

“For Asia Bibi, the Christian woman who was sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan, this Christmas is shrouded in mercy. This is her 7th Christmas she is spending behind bars … where Asia awaits the outcome of a re-examination of her blasphemy conviction …
For this 50-year-old mother of five, Christmas in the Year of Mercy is a celebration of forgiveness. Despite her suffering and isolation and her awareness of the immense injustice done to her, Asia is at peace. She is a woman who, inundated by the grace of God, gives her blessing to her own story, a story which human reason can only see as wrong, twisted and unfortunate.

Trusting in God’s Providence, Asia told members of her family who went to the prison to visit her on the morning of Christmas Eve: ‘Christmas is a celebration of God’s mercy. I forgive my persecutors, those who have made false accusations against me and I await their forgiveness.’ ” (http://www.lastampa.it/2015/12/24/vaticaninsider/eng/world-news/asia-bibis-christmas-i-forgive-my-persecutors-TOK3yqhamAjhFuldO0lFwN/pagina.html)

“Lord, come to the aid of Your Church…May they be faithful to the mission You have given them, to the word You have given them, to the commandment You have given them, so that, every day, they let themselves be led by Your grace.” (Prayer of Asia Bibi p. 121 “Blasphemy”)

# 57 A journey through the Psalms. Truths to help us to “…live a life worthy of the calling [we] have received.” (Ephesians 4:1). # Four: Psalm 2 in the NT.

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Spurgeon in his extensive commentary on the Psalms, which he calls “The Treasury of David”, speaks of Psalm 2 as a “most charming poem …full of beauty and majesty…a wonderful vision [setting forth] the tumult of the people against the Lord’s anointed, the determinate purpose of God to exalt his own Son, and the ultimate reign of that Son over all his enemies.”  (see references # 28)

But, as suggested by Longman, it is important to recognize that this psalm was originally understood as talking about “David in particular and his descendants ruling from Jerusalem…so it is probable that this psalm functioned as an inauguration song during the period of the monarchy.” (see references # 30)

In reality though, as we read the history of the kings in the OT, we note that not too many of David’s family exhibited the high standard required as God’s pious royal agents on earth as described in Psalm 2. Sadly, the record reveals that they were often the reason the nation turned away to idolatrous worship and eventually God’s judgement. Then on top of this, only occasionally did the world’s kings exhibit the type of submission to God as mentioned in this psalm.

So, as Longman suggests, “For these reasons, the New Testament authors recognized a deeper significance to the psalm that found its fulfilment in Jesus Christ, the greater son of David. Jesus…the Lord’s anointed (Messiah) and son of David…” (see ref. # 30)

So, let’s check out how the NT apostles and writers interpreted this wonderful psalm.

In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke there is the record of God’s words at the baptism of Jesus which alludes to the words of Psalm 2:7. It reads:

And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’” (Mark 1:11).

In Acts 13:32-33 we see Paul preaching in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch where he quotes Psalm 2:7 to those listening “to witness to his belief that Jesus is the ultimate fulfilment of the promise that God’s anointed would be his Son.” (Longman)

The author of Hebrews also quotes this same verse to teach concerning the superiority of Jesus, God’s Son, over the angels (Hebrews 1:5) and then again later concerning His role as our “great high priest” (Hebrews 4:14, 5:5).

In Acts we also see the early church leaders quoting Psalm 2:1-2 in their prayer and recognizing “Herod and Pontius Pilate…with the Gentiles and the people of Israel” as those who “conspire[d] against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.” (Acts 4:25-27) And because they knew that even in this God’s sovereign purposes were being worked out, they confidently prayed, “They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.” (Acts 4:28), and so continued to courageously preach the good news despite persecution.

And finally we see the fulfilment of this psalm (particularly verse 9) in the vision of John in Revelation 12:5 in reference to the second coming of Christ and his final victory over all those (whether human or spiritual beings) who have opposed him. Verse 9 is again quoted in Revelation 19:11-16 when it says “He will rule them [the rebellious nations] with an iron sceptre.”

“Thus, New Testament readers recognized that Jesus was their anointed King and the Warrior who would defeat the evil spiritual and human forces ranged against them.” (Longman).

An amazing psalm about an amazing God and his Anointed One!

And so at the end of the psalm there is both a warning and a promise of blessing which we all need to take note of and respond to. His warning and good advice is:

Listen to me…Learn your lesson while there is still time. Serve and worship the awe-inspiring God. Recognize his greatness and bow before him, trembling with reverence in his presence. Fall facedown before him and kiss the feet of his Son before his anger is roused against you. Remember that his wrath can be quickly kindled!” (2:10-12a TPT)

But then the psalm concludes with a wonderful promise:

“But many blessings are waiting for all who turn aside to hide themselves in him!” (2:12b TPT)

Thank you Father that Jesus, your Son, is King and we can find our courage in Him to press on despite opposition, and find our refuge in Him, no matter what the circumstances of our life.  Amen.